Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Ahoy! Ship Shapes Sail into Summer

Tee: Merona, Target
Skirt: So, Kohl's
Cardigan: DKNY, Macy's
Shoes: Ami Clubwear
Bag: Bisou Bisou, J. C. Penney's
Sunglasses: Candie's, Kohl's

Tee: Merona. Target
Skirt: H&M
Cardigan: Modcloth
Shoes: Nine West, DSW
Bag: Target
Sunglasses: Cloud Nine, Ocean City boardwalk
Belt: Marshalls

Tee: Merona, Target
Skirt: So, Kohl's
Cardigan: Arizona, J. C. Penney's
Shoes: Not Rated, DSW
Bag: Marshalls
Sunglasses: Cloud Nine, Ocean City boardwalk

Or maybe I should say "out of summer."  Every year, without fail, I'm surprised by the supernova that is August.  The season seems to culminate in this third, fireball of a month -- the temperature is at its highest (despite the slightly darker days), and most people wait until then to go on vacation.  Then poof!  It's time for backpacks and pumpkin spice everything. (My Spidey senses tell me that I've used this bit about pumpkins in past anti-fall rants, but then what's a post about seasonal repetition without some recycled wordplay?).  It's as if people know that they have to squeeze out the last drop, and as part of those "people," I'm no different.  Except that I'm scrambling to post the rest of my warm weather favorites and backlog of fun-in-the-sun pictures instead of getting in that last round of beach time.  I'm none too optimistic that I'll have trotted them all out by Labor Day, so watch this spot for ice cream and mermaids well into October.  Nobody likes fall anyway, right?

So that's what's up with this beach scene and anchors, all three of which have been treading water in the kiddie pool of my imagination since April.  I was tempted to call at least one of the anchors the Nautical Nonsense Necklace but decided not to for fear of angering the Spongebob people.  "Boat stuff," though, as I like to think of it, has always been pretty eye-catching.  My favorite type of boat used to be the sailboat on account of its bright, festive, well, sail.  I was so taken with sailboats that I thought I might like to climb aboard one one day.  Then I found out that they're among the most dangerous of the watercraft, what with being whipped about the sea willy-nilly due to that deceptively carefree, nothing-but-a-good-time sail.  

Somehow, I don't think that's what Poison (or the Spongebob people) had in mind.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Paper or Plastic? Teen Angst is in the Bag in John Green's Paper Towns

This past weekend I saw two pinatas: one in a store, and one in a restaurant.  As always, I was charmed by these paper sculptures and their ability to hide infinite treasures.  Which was somewhat fitting, considering that I'd just devoured John Green's Paper Towns, following it up with the movie chaser.  I don't have any pictures of pinatas, though, so I'm posting these paper dolls of dead writers instead.  If only there was a Walt Whitman . . .

A teen drama set in suburban Orlando, Paper Towns is the story of Quentin "Q" Jacobsen, a nearly nerdy high school senior who's been crushing on next door neighbor and most-popular-girl-in-school Margo Roth Spiegelman for forever.  Yet his affections aren't completely unfounded.  Once upon a time, Q and Margo had one of those idyllic, climbing-through-windows-and-riding-bikes kind of childhood friendships -- up until the day they discover a dead body.  It's an event that both bonds and divides them (at the scene, she takes two steps forward; he takes two steps back), foreshadowing their ultimate fate.  Since then, Margo starts running away, one time to join the proverbial circus, another time to tour with a band, her badass brand of joie de vivre earning her a reputation as a local legend.  So, Q is dumbstruck one night just days before prom when Margo again climbs through his bedroom window.  Before he knows it, Q is driving her around in his mom's minivan, an accomplice to her revenge prank spree aimed at her cheating ex-boyfriend and treacherous besties.  More self-indulgent than vindicating, it's an enterprise that involves squandering Margo's parents' money (or, as she rationalizes, her bat mitzvah money) on spray paint, Vaseline, and that infomerical classic The Club, among other young punk essentials.  All the while Margo vacillates between carpe diem and angry young woman mode, emboldening and exasperating nervous Nellie Q as she sprays her signature "M" in blue spray paint all over her victims' stuff.  Mysterious, manipulative, and something of a megalomaniac, Margo is the ideal foil for Q, who leads a quiet, self-imposed quarantine of a status quo life.  Their differences are never as glaring as when they're on the top floor of a bank looking down at Orlando, home to "the most magical place on earth."  Q says the view is beautiful, but Margo disagrees:

' "Here's what's not beautiful about it: from here, you can't see the rust or the cracked paint or whatever, but you can tell what the place really is.  You see how fake it all is.  It's not even hard enough to be made out of plastic.  It's a paper town.  I mean, look at it, Q: look at all those cul-de-sacs, those streets that turn in on themselves, all the houses that were built to fall apart.  All those paper people living in paper houses, burning the future to stay warm.  All the paper kids drinking beer some bum brought for them at the paper convenience store.  Everyone demented with the mania of owning things.  All the things paper-thin and paper-frail.  And all the people too.  I've lived here for eighteen years and I have never once in my life come across anyone who cares about anything that matters." ' (58)

It's a stirring speech, and Margo seems to embody every teen who has ever raged against the machine everywhere as she gives it.  And yet, something about it doesn't ring true.  I tried to remember that as I read the next 250 odd pages, warnings about unreliable narrators (technically Q, not Margo, although he brings his own biased baggage) humming in the back of my mind.

The next day, Q leaves for school starry-eyed, his heart set on hanging with Margo instead of being ignored by her in the hallways.  But then he finds out that she's vanished.  Her parents are so jaded by her disappearing act that they don't even bother to file a missing persons report, leaving the quest in Q's court.  Armed with just a few cryptic clues involving Woody Guthrie and Walt Whitman, he and his band geek buddies (a circle that unexpectedly expands to include one of Margo's popular gal pals), set out to find her.  After discovering that the term "paper towns" can refer to an abandoned subdivision, Q visits each housing-development-that-never-was in Central Florida, a wild goose chase that leads him to an even more unsettling abandoned strip mall.  Rife with rats and asbestos, the place is littered with moldy seashell souvenirs and mortgage company calendar pages -- and a blanket that smells just like Margo confirming that it is -- or was -- her secret hideout.  Further investigation uncovers another, more relevant, meaning of "paper town," which is a fictitious town invented by mapmakers to prevent copyright infringement.  Or, in other words, a fake town masquerading as real.  That's when it occurs to Q that Margo may not have merely taken the road less traveled; she may have taken a road that's not even real.  I couldn't help but wonder why she had to run off to some creepy warehouse.  Why couldn't she just barricade herself in her room until college like every other misunderstood adolescent?  And, more importantly, wasn't she afraid of the dark?  Not to mention the rats and the vandals (naturally, I assume there were vandals)?!  But then I realized that I was pulling a Quentin, trying to superimpose my own fears and feelings on her to determine what it was she "should" do.

I'm not going to spoil the ending.  Or even go into the many symbols and metaphors that Green so beautifully weaves throughout Q's narrative.  What I will say is that I liked it, and that my thirtysomething perspective seemed to enhance rather than hinder my appreciation.  More coming-of-age story than teen romance, Paper Towns is, at its core, a story about expectations: those we have for others, and those we have for ourselves.  It's also about the beauty of ordinary life and routine, and that such a life lived is a success instead of a failure.  Towns are what you make of them, just as life is what you make of it, too.  Sometimes that's hard to see when you still need a hall pass.

That having been said, the conclusion of the movie version is more open-ended, presenting Margo as slightly softer and her destiny as more inspiring adventure than cautionary tale.  Where the book implies that she's misguided and maybe a little hard hearted, the movie suggests that she's a free spirit following her star.  Which makes sense, because that's what movies do, especially movies meant for young people.  That's the thing about the book-movie relationship; it challenges you, each medium playing off the other to give you a story's deepest and most truthful version.

Something tells me that John Green would approve.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

On the Sanctity of Fruit: From Farm to Fable

Top: Delia's
Skirt: Modcloth
Shoes: Ami Clubwear
Bag: H&M
Belt: Izod, Marshalls
Sunglasses: J. C. Penney's

 Simply Strawberry Brooch

Dress: Modcloth
Shoes: Dolce by Mojo Moxy
Bag: Katie & Kelly, DSW
Belt: Apt. 9, Kohl's
Sunglasses: Kohl's

 Simply Citrus Brooch

Dress: Modcloth
Shoes: Ami Clubwear
Bag: Modcloth
Belt: Marshalls
Sunglasses: J. C. Penney's

Top: So, Kohl's
Skirt: ELLE, Kohl's
Shoes: Qupid, Alloy
Bag: Call it Spring, J. C. Penney's
Belt: Candie's, Kohl's
Sunglasses: Cloud Nine, Ocean City boardwalk

I've always loved fruit.  The kind you can eat is delicious and nutritious, and the kind you can't brightens up a dull day.  The latter has two basic style personas: realistic and cartoonish.  Realistic fruit looks like the stuff at your local farm stand; cartoonish fruit looks like it's about to get up and dance.  But they're both appealing (and I don't just mean the bananas), forming a tapestry rich in lifelike and surreal motifs.  Also, antioxidants.

So you can imagine how perturbed I was to find that certain cereal bars and cookies (which shall remain nameless, lest I receive crates of rotting fruit from the snack company bigwigs), have been passing off cranberries as strawberries.  It's a clever if exasperating ruse, and for a while it works.  That is, until you're chomping on one of these carb clusters and think, "Hey, I know that's a strawberry on the box, but this wrinkled red thing kind of looks like a cranberry.  And it kind of tastes like a cranberry too!"  So you read the ingredients on the side of the box and confirm your suspicions; there are no strawberries in this thing at all!  Why would they do that?  Because nobody likes cranberries, despite Thanksgiving's campaign to convince us otherwise.

That's why this week's pieces pay homage to that master of masqueraders: extract.  Flavorings frank about their fakeness, these enticing elixirs keep things real by having the integrity to pretend to be the fruits displayed with such lifelike detail on their iconic McCormick boxes.  Naturally, this makes me think of the always wry, sometimes ribald comedy Extract, specifically that part toward the end in which Jason Bateman's Joel explains why he loves running a small extract factory.  Even after all the trouble caused by his affair-that-wasn't with line worker Cindy (Mila Kunis), he gets sentimental about the vanilla, almond, and root beer flavors that his plant churns out year after year.  Why?  Because they make people happy.  In other words, it's the seemingly small, extraneous things in life that give it its sweetness and -- ahem -- flavor.  That's why Joel did what he did, and that's why I do what I do, too.  It's probably also why the bogus cereal bar and cookie people pull their strawberry scam.

Next week I'll attempt to apply the same logic to Fruit Loops.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Books by Mail, Oh What a Tale! and Rufus Spills the Beans

Top: Kohl's
Camisole: Kohl's
Skirt: Material Girl, Macy's
Shoes: Bucco, Kohl's
Bag: Nine West, Boscov's
Sunglasses: Rampage, Boscov's

Tee: Merona, Target
Skirt: Ellen Tracy, J. C. Penney's
Shoes: Penny Loves Kenny, DSW
Bag: Princess Vera, Kohl's
Sunglasses: The Tote Trove
Belt: Wet Seal

Dress: Lauren Conrad, Kohl's
Skirt: Kohl's
Shoes: Journeys
Bag: Target
Sunglasses: Brigantine beach shop
Belt: Wet Seal

Sometimes, when I'm packaging orders, I feel like Mr. Bean (Rowan Atkinson) from that scene in Love, Actually.  You know.  The one where boss-man Harry (Alan Rickman) is buying a gold necklace for his secretary-slash-mistress and Mr. Bean is taking forever and a day wrapping it, placing it first in a box and then in a clear plastic bag, which he fussily fills with dried roses, some other dried flora that comes out of its very own drawer, and (because it is the holidays) a cinnamon stick.  He's donning rubber gloves, brandishing holly, and fixing to shove it all into a big, conspicuous Christmas box when Harry puts a stop to the madness, his wife looming dangerously in the background.  Not that there's anything dramatic about me swathing stuff in acres of bright tulle and tissue.  But like Mr. Bean (or, as he is [as nearly] ridiculously named in this role, Rufus) I do tend to get carried away, especially without a skittish, adulterous Brit to cry uncle.  I love packaging every order just so, making it pop with ribbons and drawings -- and surprises.  Like a birthday present.  Or, at the very least, a really good catch from a pediatrician's prize box.  It's what separates my little enterprise, and those of all Etsians, from Amazon.  Well, that and enough glue to double-coat Alaska.

Not that I'm knocking Amazon.  That would be pretty thoughtless, seeing as how it's Tammy (the Torso's) homeland.  Also, I just ordered four paperbacks from there, one of which is already becoming fast friends with a unicorn bookmark.  Ordering books from Amazon kind of reminds me of grade school book orders.  I used to love pouring over the vaguely colorful newsprint pamphlets from Weekly Reader and Scholastic, eyeing up the exciting new titles and special extras like rainbow-print pencils and "Saved by the Bell" posters.  I'd feverishly add and subtract items on my Texas Instruments calculator until I had spent my allowance on just the right mix of fun and intellectually stimulating.  Once I even enrolled in some sort of summer club, although that turned out to be a disappointment beyond the googly-eyed puffball "Reading is Believing!" critter that lured me in.  Not exactly what you'd call dish washing money well spent.  Anyway, Amazon's a lot like Weekly Reader, only the "special extras" run the gamut from watermelon Oreos to electric band saws.  (Although I've never purchased power tools, I can't say the same about the Oreos.)  Like most people, I depend on this most popular of online retailers for hard-to-find essentials like scarf hangers, flower boxes, cherry pitters, and (but of course) glue.  Yet despite its virtual general store status, it's Amazon's exhaustive collection of books that most spellbinds me.  It's nearly ruined me for big box brick and mortar stores, where it's not unusual to comb the aisles only to emerge without the elusive, still-as-of-yet-unread-by-you titles from your favorite authors.

Plus, those stores never have enough unicorn merch.  Or glossies of good old Mr. Belding.    

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Magical Mystery Story Tour

Dress: Kohl's
Shoes: Ami Clubwear
Bag: Nine West, Boscov's
Belt: Izod, Marshalls
Sunglasses: Brigantine beach shop

Tee: Wet Seal
Skirt: J. C. Penney's
Shoes: Ami Clubwear (again!)
Bag: H&M
Sunglasses: Brigantine beach shop (squared!)

Dress: American Rag, Macy's
Shoes: Madden Girl, Marshalls
Bag: Apt. 9, Kohl's
Sunglasses: J. C. Penney's

This week's pieces don't have a whole lot in common aside from being faintly tropical.  So, I'm peeking outside the (craft supply? toy? I can't seem to remember which one I haven't used yet . . .) box in search of a theme to tie this post together.

Just the right time for a triple book report, don't you think?  

I'm about halfway through the third in a trio of cozies -- because what mystery fan doesn't like her mayhem wrapped up in an afghan?  (All the better to mop up the mess with, I say.)  Up for consideration are Mary Daheim's Clam Wake, Laura Levine's Death of a Neighborhood Witch, and Julie Hyzy's Affairs of Steak.  

Happy hour goes homicidal in Clam Wake.  Set in idyllic-meets-creepy island retirement community Obsession Shores in the dead of (hardy har har) winter, this mollusk gets moving when a milquetoast of a man is stabbed on the beach.  Only Seattle sleuths Judith and Renie can schmooze the booze-loving oldsters to find the killer before the next shell shocker -- but not before having a few of their signature wacky run-ins.  Death of a Neighborhood Witch occupies similar territory, shamelessly employing corny humor to describe the murder (also, incidentally, a stabbing) of a one-hit-wonder sitcom star in the slums of Beverly Hills.  This caper is captained by lovable loser Jaine Austen, author of not acclaimed novels, but award-winning plumbing ads (in this book she branches out to mattresses; her Bernie the Bedbug is as cute a creation this side of Disney).  Reading both books was like -- to impose upon a much-loved cliche -- visiting with old friends.  Deranged, dysfunctional friends, but friends nonetheless.  Judith and Renie's irreverence and Jaine's self deprecation are endlessly endearing, softening the (always fatal) blow of the very murders they seek to solve.  Chock-full of puns, caricatures, and other mass market paperback guilty pleasures, these whodunits know how to deliver.  Affairs of Steak, however, is an entirely different kettle of fish.  White House head chef Olivia "Ollie" Paras and prickly sensitivity director (yes, that's really a thing) Peter Sargeant discover two staffers stuffed into tilt-skillets (also, apparently a thing), an incident that Hyzy describes in somewhat graphic detail.  Which should have been my first, ahem, clue, that this mystery would be no laughing matter.  With all the pomp and circumstance that we've come to expect from the White House, Affairs of Steak is undeniably the most serious of the three stories.  Hyzy puts the political in party, and I'm not talking donkeys and elephants.  The characters are high-strung instead of silly, career-climbing instead of quirky.  Protocol rules the day, and even the most innocuous conversations are fraught with enough tension to keep the interrogation bulb perpetually burning.  On the up side (for I strive to be a kindly, if not always Pollyanna, blogger), it's more cloak and dagger -- and therefore dramatic -- than its kookier counterparts.  It also seems a little more realistic, what with its earnest officers instead of the usual bumbling cops.  Finally, Affairs of Steak has the distinction of being the only culinary cozy of the triumvirate, complete with recipes.  Death by Chocolate, anyone?

So, which novel most ignited my intrigue, tickled my funny bone, and had me turning the pages long after midnight?  It was a close call (between Clam and Witch, of course, not Steak; that sad sack was never in the running) -- but Daheim's done it again!  Her Clam Wake puts the fun in funeral.

Hey, somebody had to say it.